TAs forced to take on teaching as staff cuts bite, says NEU

Staff cuts are forcing teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians to step up and teach pupils, according to a National Education Union (NEU) survey of over 1,700 support staff members.

More than half (54 per cent) of respondents said they were carrying out tasks that used to be the remit of teachers, such as marking pupils’ work and entering data.

Writing for Schools Week in May last year, Megan Charlton, teaching assistants steward for Unison, warned that school budget cuts meant some TAs were being sacked from their jobs and rehired on new contracts, which were effectively zero hours during school holidays and amounted to a pay cut of up to £4,000.

I work an additional four to five hours a week unpaid to mark books

Then in September, analysis by the union GMB of 190 TA apprenticeship vacancies found that the vast majority of apprentice teaching assistants were being used as “cheap labour” for just £3.50 an hour.

But despite these tough conditions the responsibilities of the role are expanding as schools struggle to make ends meet, the NEU survey found.

One learning support assistant (LSA) in a secondary school in Lambeth said teaching tasks being covered by LSAs in their school included “planning differentiation materials, planning for lessons, creating resources, contacting parents about pupils’ progress, running curriculum clubs, supporting enrichment for year 11 pupils”.

Meanwhile, a higher level TA in York said: “I am paid for running a breakfast club each morning before school but this is not part of my contracted hours and therefore not pensionable.

“I work an additional four to five hours a week unpaid to mark books for the lessons I prepare and teach as PPA cover [planning, preparation and assessment]”.

Another HLTA in Cardiff said she had to teach all subjects and “mark books of any classes I cover”. On average, she covered classes three days a week.

TAs were not the only support staff expected to cover classes. Staff in other roles including lab technicians, cover supervisors and careers leaders reported planning, teaching lessons, and assessing pupils’ work.

Overall, 13 per cent of respondents said they regularly worked over seven extra hours a week above their contracted hours, which equates to one extra day a week.

One third (32 per cent) said they worked more than two days extra a month, and almost two thirds (60 per cent) said any overtime they did was unpaid.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said these changes are the result of school budgets being “cut to the bone”.

“This survey shows the worrying use of support staff who are being over-worked and used as cheap labour to teach,” she said.

“This needs to stop. Support staff are being exploited and it is children’s education that suffers, if they are not being taught by qualified teachers and supported adequately by the valuable support staff.

“Support staff need to be paid fairly for the work they do, and for the hours they work.”